In the late 18th century and early 19th century, the subcontinent of India was in a political turmoil. The Marathas had already lost the opportunity to create a pan-Indian empire after the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, and the states of Mysore, Hyderabad, Travancore, Punjab, Awadh, among others, were engaged in a futile defense exercise against the mighty British, with the latter employing their political wit and military will to take over. Eventually, without integrating themselves within our ancient society, the British successfully governed us for almost 200-years, starting from 1757 to 1947, becoming the first in almost 3000-years to do so.
Unlike the barbaric Muslim invaders or Mughals, the Britishers employed the methodologies of economics to colonize Indians. What they could buy, they bought through Subsidiary Alliance, and the ones who refused to be bought, were either taken over by the Doctrine of Lapse or through the infamous battles like the Carnatic and Maratha wars. Careful evaluation, calculated expansion, and administrative consolidation gave the British their biggest pool of wealth, the one they would drain for until 1947. Cut to the end of First World War, when America proposed the idea of League of Nations, it was a genuine attempt by the silent dragon of the West to embark on a global invasion based on principles, alliances, and America’s favorite export; democracy.
Today, China is exporting the dreams and economic fundamentals that formed the core of the British foreign policy and American global outlook in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. Lofty investments in the form of infrastructure abroad have made China a power to reckon with. Projected to have an economy in excess of America and India combined by 2050, China is all set to become the legitimate superpower of the 21st century.
China in Numbers
With a GDP of less than $3-billion in 1980, China, today, has a GDP in excess of $11-trillion. Its exports have risen from $40-billion in 1980 to over $4-trillion in 2015. In terms of manufacturing alone, China creates a Greece every 16-weeks and an Israel every 25-weeks, making it the most sought global manufacturing hub. Between 2011 and 2013, China, reportedly used more cement to develop local infrastructure than the US did in the entire 20th century.
In the last 15-years, China has created a housing stock for its population that is more than that of the European Union. With a literacy rate of 95%, average life expectancy of 76-years, China has made significant investment in its human capital. Also, its defense expenditure has increased 5-times in the last decade, second to the US, with two separate navies, Blue Navy for the oceans and Green Navy for the Coasts, China wants to take over the Indian and Pacific Oceans in its pursuit of global dominance.
What China Wants
With staggering numbers in almost every domain, the objectives of China can be summed up in 4-points. Firstly, the Chinese, quite like the Indians, take pride in their 5000-years old civilization, and believe they are the centre of the universe, both metaphorically and literally, and this enables them on the quest to become the greatest in Asia, as they were for a greater part of Ancient History. Two, as evident by their adventures in the South China Sea, China seeks to dominate their East including the Pacific Ocean, fueling the existing bone of contention against Japan and the United States.
Three, the Chinese want to influence policies and politics across the globe, as they have recently showcased through their ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative. Quite like the British and the US in the global contemporary history, the Chinese have been doing enough to sustain this influence through economic bailouts, investments, and loans to nations in need. Lastly, the Chinese wish to be taken seriously. As hilarious this objective might seem the Chinese economic and political setup has not gained traction in a global outlook shaped by the ideas of the Post-1945 West. To rephrase Tarantino, the Chinese know they have evoked curiosity, and now they are desperate to attract attention.
The Most Powerful Man in China and on Earth
China’s global hegemony, today, has its origins in its leader, Xi Jinping, who unarguably has emerged to be the most powerful man in China, and on Earth. Leading the most populated nation in the world, letting a market economy thrive in a communist shadow, and to rise up to the challenges of the West does warrant some admiration and respect, the same the Chinese seek across the globe through their greater presence in Africa, Indo-Pacific region, and South-East Asia.
It won’t be wrong to suggest that in the years to come, Xi Jinping will dictate the international policies for more than 50% of the global population, starting with the 18% back home in China. For his citizens, Jinping aims to build a society that is prospering in every domain, ensures success for the Chinese brand of socialism in this age of globalization, and help the Chinese realize their dreams for a better life, as he was quoted during the 19th Party Congress in October 2017. Xi Jinping, deriving inspiration and intellect from the culture he proudly represents, is the man with a plan that spans across decades, is not impulsive, and one that is inclusive of all nations the Chinese can roll over, barring Narendra Modi in whom the world sees Xi Jinping’s contemporary.
Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi
More than their vision for their respective nations and citizens, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi share a common origin, that colored by destitution. Already, a lot has been written and spoken about Modi’s humble background, with some 50-years old youth icons even choosing to mock it, while India, as a whole, has come to admire and respect it.
Forced to denounce his own father, Jinping reserved himself to the harsh peasant life, educating himself by stealing books, living in caves, and even witnessing the suicide of an elder sister due to abuse and harassment after their father was arrested during a cultural crackdown by Mao Zedong. In him, the Chinese see the living epitome of determination and integrity.
Today, the rise of China and India is fueled by two players who have risen from the ashes of poverty and psychological abuse to serve a billion people, and hence, the alignment in their vision, dreams, and objectives is not surprising.
PM Narendra Modi, in his 3-years at the Centre has demonstrated he means business. Be it the recent standoff at Doklam or the trade barriers in China for Indian products, or the recent election of Justice Bhandari to the International Court of Justice, Modi’s brand of foreign policy may not have attained the deep pockets Jinping has, but it sure holds potential for something great, for unlike China, it respects every partner nation’s political and economic sovereignty.
China’s Future, US Futility, and India’s Freedom
China is going to take over the world, if not politically, at least economically. Even with a debt to GDP ratio somewhere between 250-300% (depending on numerous reports), with most of the debt accumulated with the state owned enterprises looking to build infrastructure for the middle-class population, China has trading ties with over 90-countries, is ranking up presence in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Africa, and Pakistan to strengthen its network within Asia, which India sees as a competitive force to reckon with rather than an economic or political threat.
The US, on the other hand, is still coming to terms with the fact that China has surpassed them. For many, the mere idea of a civilization in the East dominating the technological, economical, and political might of the US, which is now a mere beautiful chapter in history for most Americans, is unthinkable, as real as it might be. Thus, the might of the West has been looking for allies in the East, starting with South Korea (which even helps them counter North Korea), Japan, and India. This brought back in question the decade old idea of the Quadrilateral comprising of India, America, Japan, and Australia to influence policies in the Indo-Pacific region, and yet a lot is left to be desired.
India’s Narendra Modi has a lot of homework for International Relations. One, threat, direct or indirect, from China is imminent, and even though the Doklam standoff might have ended in India’s favor, it’s only a matter of time before China shows its true colors elsewhere. Two, manufacturing in India must play the catch-up game with China, and this is where investment in human capital on numerous levels will be indispensable, something the current NDA government has actively engaged in. Lastly, Modi has to derive a method where India plays a dominant role in global politics and co-exists with China, with citizens of both the nations realizing their dreams in a prosperous society, for this is not a clash between ideologies or identities, but that between two ancient powers, moving like rampaging rivers, destined to meet in one ocean.
Xi Jinping, in his absolute conquest may end up destroying more dreams than he can create, and Modi, in his absolute objectivity and clarity, must create more than the opposite forces seek to destroy in this elaborately complex game of global politics. Given Trump’s stay in the Oval Office is far from assured beyond 2020, and every possible leftist element in India will look to derail the progressive Modi express in 2019, Xi Jinping will have the opportunity to create a world that is dictated by the whims, fancies, and vision of the Chinese.
China’s Might: The Recent Coup of Zimbabwe and Politics in Pakistan
With over $50-billion invested in Pakistan, China has a lot of worry about each time the terrorist state goes back to its usual form of self-destruction and anarchy. With unconfirmed reports about the latest events where the Pakistani army had to take over to cease the protests against the Law Minister, events like these would prompt the Chinese to pocket officials and leaders in the political and military establishment to secure its investments, thus impacting India directly. With China exerting greater influence in Pakistan than the US ever could, it will not come as a surprise if China uses the likes of Hafiz Saeed to dictate terms to India in the case of an indirect conflict.
Moving beyond Asia, evidence of China’s involvement in the recent coup in Zimbabwe has also emerged. With some citing China’s deep relations with the army of the African nation and its new President (and former Vice-President) Mnangagwa, some reports have suggested that the Chinese wanted to secure their investments in the diamond mines of Zimbabwe, and hence, engineered the entire coup. While the Chinese officials continue to deny this, as any nation would, it showcases China’s strength, intention, and ability to direct politics at a global level as and when it suits them, something the British did in India and America did in the post-1945 liberal world.
Narendra Modi and India Beyond 2019
What makes Narendra Modi indispensable to the geopolitics is his belief, cultured by the civilization he represents, of respecting the sovereignty of every nation, with or without a trade agreement. This is significantly different from what China intends to do, has done, or is currently doing, thus making PM Modi the perfect protagonist against China’s antagonistic politics.
In the National Elections of 2019, for the first time, Indians could be voting not only to shape their domestic policy, but to also shape international relations and counter China. With Rahul Gandhi not even remotely close in ability to counter a Chinese official in the happiest leftists’ dream, the world will look to Narendra Modi to balance the offensive from China, with the Quad, RCEP, ASEAN, and other such political outlooks being integral to the entire process.
Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi are men of destiny, the stuff you read about in books, the stories you can only ponder over but cannot live. They are fierce, competitive, and they have the backing of a billion citizens, who for centuries have engaged and disengaged amongst themselves, given the global conditions.
Unless the two nations find a way to co-exist in simultaneous prosperity, and unless the Chinese antagonistic offensive is not countered by the subtle politics of Narendra Modi along with Abe, Trump, and other global leaders, the world will witness China’s rise, paralleling that of the British in the 19th century and that of America in the 20th.
A bleak prospect under a brilliant leader is going to be against a brilliant leader emerging from a bleak past.